5 Minutes to Better Project Management

October 30, 2014 Sara Guggisberg

guy-running-by-clock We've all heard the phrase "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." More often than not, it's just a euphemistic alternative to "it's hanging by a thread, but let's not bother to fix it yet." While that attitude lends itself well to extending the life of worn-in shoes or starting up a ham radio, it should not apply to project management.

Traditional project management is broken because, as its name suggests, it is adept at tracking only its organization's formal projects. However, the average IT organization reportedly spends 45–55 percent of its time on urgent, unplanned activities. If half of an organization's time is spent on something other than assigned projects, it must have a project management methodology that encapsulates the tracking of both its formal projects and especially its unplanned activities.

To help you fix what's broken, we've listed three common project management roadblocks below, along with some quick ways to transform hanging-by-a-thread-project-management into comprehensive work management that is securely integrated into the fabric of your organization.

1. Reduce Ad Hoc Work

Ad hoc work turns an otherwise constructive workday into a state of functioning chaos—with a constant flow of emails, urgent requests, and other unplanned activities, enterprise workers are left exhausted and busy, sure, but productive? Not so much. Plus, the Wall Street Journal reports that the mental exhaustion caused by unscheduled interruptions at work leaves people more prone to make errors.

A lack of productivity caused by ad hoc work is costly to any enterprise. That same Wall Street Journal report explains that it can take 25 minutes to return to a task after an unplanned interruption, and up to 50 minutes to return to the level of deep concentration where the best work is.

All-inclusive work management provides one cohesive platform on which quick conversations, verbally assigned tasks, and other ad hoc work can be scheduled and tracked, which leads to:

  • Fewer interruptions. When a colleague has a question, he or she can send it in a quick streaming update instead of derailing your schedule with a 15-minute conversation at your desk. When these ad hoc questions and updates are part of your broader work management system, they can be captured and dealt with on your schedule, not everyone else's.

  • Better visibility. Employing enterprise work management means no more naively assuming you'll have all day to focus your uninterrupted attention on one urgent project, then wonder what happened when 5 p.m. comes around and you haven't even touched the project yet. Ad hoc work can easily be added to an employee's task list so managers can see what's eating up time, whether it's necessary, and who is available to pick up the slack to keep critical projects on schedule.

2. Put the Kibosh on Unnecessary Status Updates and Meetings

boring-meeting-man Here are some troubling statistics from MeetingKing about today's work meetings (you are welcome to use these stats to support your crusade against meeting attendance; let us know if they get you out of any): 37 percent of employee time is spent in meetings; over 70 percent of meeting attendees brought other work to do during the meeting; and around 25–50 percent of meeting time is wasted.

To be clear, we are not advocating an end to all meetings—interfacing with your team is a necessary and beneficial part of collaborative work. But these statistics show that most meetings interfere with project management, productivity, and even company morale. So here are some suggestions on how to stop unnecessary meetings and improve the effectiveness of those you can't avoid.

  • Interestingly enough, stand-up meetings (no, not the comedy kind, the chair-less kind) have been shown to cut meeting length by 25 percent. It makes sense, because who wants to spend any more time than necessary awkwardly standing around a conference table?

If that approach sounds a little extreme, there are plenty of other, more comfortable ways to improve work meetings.

  • Mind Tools suggests that each meeting start with a clear objective, that each attendee feels a sensible process is followed during the meeting, and that the objective established at the beginning of the meeting is considered achieved by the end of it. Oh, and the meeting should be as short as possible.

  • Enterprise work management replaces unnecessary status meetings. Software showing the real-time status of each project or activity increases visibility and quick collaboration while removing the need to continually verbalize status updates. A solution that provides a natural system of engagement is just as effective and much more efficient than gathering the team, taking turns reporting, and recording the status in a spreadsheet or document that is obsolete the minute it leaves the conference room.

3. Say Goodbye to Too Many Tools

Sadly, very few enterprise workers are trained jugglers (wouldn't that make for a great office party?). Yet they are still expected to do a juggler's job on a daily basis, constantly shifting between tools like email, spreadsheets, databases, to-do lists, and hard and soft copy documents just to complete their work. In fact, Shirley Fine Lee reports that the average worker regularly uses 13 different tools or methods to control and manage his or her work. And when any of these are lost or disorganized (which they always are), workers spend an average of two and a half hours per day, 30 percent of the workday, searching for and gathering information.

Given all these tools—and all the time required to manage and find the data within them, it's no surprise that more than one in three enterprise workers attribute work failures to a lack of clear processes and priorities (2014 Enterprise Work Management Report). To avoid costly work failures and to reduce the number of objects dangerously suspended mid-air:

  • Replace multiple tools that don't talk to each other and create silos of information with a single system of engagement for enterprise work. Establishing a hierarchy for your objectives and tasks is simple when they are housed within one tool and are just a click away.

Ad hoc work, unnecessary meetings, and multiple tools act as roadblocks to enterprise workers' potential. Think about your own typical workday. How many minutes do you spend searching through old emails, held hostage at your desk for an impromptu conversation, or putting off your formal projects to accommodate others' more pressing needs?

These roadblocks are removed when project management becomes a single, naturally flowing enterprise work management system that tracks ad hoc work, reduces time spent in meetings, and remains as current and efficient as you are.

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